Tonight a small but enterprising Miami-based TV network, SoiTV, will air a revealing interview with former Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice Eladio Aponte Aponte, who has been under the protection of the U.S. DEA for several days. The authors of this article had access to the interview results.
Judge Aponte Aponte is, so far, the highest official who has defected since Hugo Chávez came to power. His testimony presents a unique view into the criminal structure promoted by the current Venezuelan government. Aponte also names individuals who have committed serious violations of Venezuelan human rights and attacks on foreign interests.
Mr. Aponte confessed that he received direct orders from President Hugo Chávez to use his legal power against individuals that opposed the regime. As president of the criminal tribunal of the Supreme Court, Aponte had supervision of all criminal courts in the country and practically on all judges, with a capacity to influence almost any judicial decision.
Moreover, in his testimony Mr. Aponte says he also received calls from Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, Venezuela’s Defense Minister and Hugo Carvajal, who until recently was the head of military intelligence, among others, ordering him to "manipulate judicial proceedings." Both Rangel Silva and Carvajal have been designated by the U.S. Treasury as "drug kingpins" for their ties to the narco-terrorist FARC guerrilla army in Colombia. Moreover, Aponte alleges that he has "evidence" of the high officials’ ties to narcotics traffickers. An example he cites is that of a drug shipment that was safeguarded overnight in a Venezuelan military base. Aponte says he was ordered to provide legal cover for the drug shipment as it made its way from the border to "the center of the country" (on the coast, where Venezuela’s ports are located).
Aponte also admits to having been linked to other important figures designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury as international drug traffickers, such as Walid Makled who, according to a federal indictment in New York, sent hundreds of tons of cocaine into the U.S. with the help of top-ranking Venezuelan officials. Makled’s "trial" began a few days ago in Venezuela.
It was, in fact, Aponte’s link to Makled that led to Aponte’s removal from the Supreme Court by the General Assembly of Venezuela and his subsequent defection to Costa Rica, where the DEA picked Aponte up. Makled had been arrested in Colombia nearly two years ago and extradited to Venezuela in 2011. While in a Colombian prison, Makled was interviewed by various U.S. law enforcement agencies, and his testimony implicated Aponte in drug trafficking. Since Chávez has had Makled in his jails for nearly a year, Chávez knew what Makled was going to say at his trial about Aponte, and therefore Aponte had to be "sacrificed" to save Chávez and what the Venezuelan people call his "narco-generals."
Numerous reports from the U.S. State Department and international human rights monitors indicate that the Venezuelan judicial system is used by the President Chávez as a tool to punish and persecute opposition leaders, as well as to obtain the release of drug traffickers.
Aponte’s testimony is probably the most important evidence so far to show the lack of independent institutions in Venezuela, the existence of political prisoners, and the links between high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government to drug trafficking and criminal organizations such as Colombia’s FARC.
Otto J. Reich is president of the consulting firm Otto Reich & Associates LLC. He is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. Follow him on Twitter: @ottoreich
Ezequiel Vázquez Ger is an associate at Otto Reich Associates LLC and collaborates with the non-profit organization The Americas Forum. Follow him on Twitter: @ezequielvazquez